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Aspen airport eyes its carbon footprint

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is hoping that a new report on greenhouse gas emissions related to airport operations will help create ways to save on energy and reduce emissions.

Jim Elwood, director of the airport, said this week that he is hoping the report, by a West Coast consulting firm, will lead to improvements in energy efficiency and innovations in everything from airport operations to aircraft technology.

But first, Elwood said, he and his staff will spend the next nine months working up an “action plan” to be presented to Pitkin County commissioners.



Elwood presented the report, by the Synergy Consultants, Inc. of Washington state, to the commissioners at a work session on June 17.

The report shows that between the airport’s own operations, traffic to and from the facility and heat and electricity for the buildings, the airport was responsible for the generation of 55,270 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is the most troublesome of what are known as “greenhouse gases,” in 2006.



According to the report, greenhouse gases associated with airlines and tenants of the airport, including rental car companies, combined to pump a total of 54,931 tons of CO2 in to the atmosphere that year.

At the same time, operations at the airport, private cars bringing passengers to and from the airport and “ground support equipment” accounted for the generation of 339 tons of the gas.

Greenhouse gases are believed to be causing a “greenhouse effect” in Earth’s atmosphere (hence the nickname given to the gases) which is contributing to a rapid rise in the planet’s atmospheric temperature.

The 70-page report, which cost the county $40,000 and has taken half a year to complete, reports in detail on the methods used to analyze data, as well as references to other reports by other jurisdictions, including municipalities and airports in California, Washington, British Columbia (Canada) and the city and county of Denver.

In addition, the report makes reference to other greenhouse-gas initiatives around the country, mostly involving regional efforts being made by numerous states acting together.

In the report, aircraft of all types are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. These are aircraft cruising above 3,000 feet off the ground or more (70.2 percent), followed by aircraft that are approaching the runway or taking off, taxiing or standing or climbing out, which account for 18.8 percent of the total.

Concerning the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport’s own operations, the report maintains that the lion’s share of emissions come from “ground support equipment,” which accounts for nearly 46 percent of the airport’s emissions. This equipment includes aircraft “tugs,” loaders, tractors and other vehicles.

Up next, according to the report, come the airport’s commuting employees (23.8 percent), followed by “airport infrastructure and stationary sources” such as lighting, heating and cooling equipment and fire-fighting training equipment, which contribute 23.7 percent of the total.

Next are passenger vehicles (4.4 percent), hotel shuttles (2 percent) and rental cars (3 percent).

Elwood said that with the baseline data provided by the report, he and his staff can monitor the airport’s emissions over time to see if its performance is improving.

Among the improvements he has already begun or is working on, he said, are the purchase of wind power and hydroelectric power to reduce the facility’s reliance on coal-fired electricity, conversion of the “aircraft tugs” that move aircraft around and pull the luggage carts to electric engines instead of the gas-powered motors now in use, and encouraging greater use of battery-powered equipment to run aircraft electronics when the planes are on the ground. Currently, he said, the planes must run the jet engines to power the navigation and other electrical equipment even when the plane is not flying.

“I think there’s going to be some very exciting things coming forward,” Elwood said, referring to innovations prompted by such reports. He noted that the Fixed Base Operations at the airport, which takes care of the private air traffic into and out of the facility, already uses electric tugs to move aircraft around on the ground, and expressed the hope that the commercial airlines will soon follow suit.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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